Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a popular thermoplastic that contains high levels of chlorine which can reach up to 57%. Carbon, which is derived from oil or gas is also used in its fabrication. It is an odorless and solid plastic that is white, brittle and can also be found on the market in the form of pellets or white powder. PVC resin is often supplied in the powder forms and its high resistance to oxidation and degradation make it possible to store the material for long periods. Some authors/activists that oppose the manufacturers of PVC often refer to it as the “Poison Plastic” due to the toxic pollutants it might release. When plasticizers are added it becomes softer and more flexible.
Economical, versatile polyvinyl chloride (PVC, or vinyl) is used in a variety of applications in the building and construction, health care, electronics, automobile and other sectors, in products ranging from piping and siding, blood bags and tubing, to wire and cable insulation, windshield system components and more.
PVC is a very durable and long lasting material which can be used in a variety of applications, either rigid or flexible, white or black and a wide range of colours in between.
The first patent for a polymerisation process to manufacture PVC was granted to German inventor Friedrich Klatte in 1913 and PVC has been in commercial production since 1933. The material now accounts for about 20% of all plastic manufactured world-wide, second only to polyethlene.
PVC is predominant in the construction industry due to its low production cost, malleability, and light weight. It is used as a replacement for metal in many applications where corrosion can compromise functionality and escalate maintenance costs. Many of the world’s pipes are made from PVC and these are used in industrial and municipal applications. It is also used to make pipe fitting and pipe conduits. It does not have to be welded and can be connected with the use of joints, solvent cement and special glues–key points that highlight its installation flexibility. The material is also present in the electrical components such as electrical insulation, wires, and cable coatings.
In the healthcare industry, it is used to make feeding tubes, blood bags, intravenous (IV) bags, parts of dialysis devices and many other items. This is only possible when phthalates are added to it. Phthalates are used as plasticizers to produce flexible grades of PVC (and other plastics), thus making it better suited for the aforementioned applications due to improved performance characteristics.
Common consumer products such as raincoats, plastic bags, toys, credit cards, hoses, doors and window frames and shower curtains are also made from PVC. This is not an exhaustive list of the many products that can be found around the household with PVC as its main constituent.
As mentioned earlier, PVC is a low-cost material that is lightweight and as such, is easy to handle and install. Compared to other types of polymers, its manufacturing process is not limited to the use of crude oil or natural gas. Some use this point to argue that it a sustainable plastic since these forms of energy are known to be nonrenewable.
PVC is also a durable material and is not affected by corrosion or other forms of degradation. It can easily be converted into different forms making its use across various industries an evident advantage. Being a thermoplastic it can be recycled and converted into new products for different industries, but this is not an easy process due to the many formulations used to manufacture PVC.
It also presents chemical stability which is an important factor when PVC products are applied in environments with different types of chemicals. This characteristic guarantees that it maintains its properties without undergoing significant changes when chemicals are added.
PVC plastics account for a lot of plastics that are used in the world today. This material is ranked as the third most used plastic falling behind polyethylene and polypropylene. The concerns regarding its threat to human health have prompted research around the use of sugarcane ethanol as the feedstock for PVC instead of naphtha. Additional research is also being conducted on bio-based plasticizers as a solution for phthalate-free plasticizers. These experiments are still in their initial stages, but the hope is to develop more sustainable forms of PVC that do not affect human health or threaten the environment during the manufacture, use and disposal stages. With the many excellent characteristics that PVC presents, it continues to be a widely used plastic across various industries.
Because it is durable, dependable and light weight, flexible PVC helps packaging do its job to maintain the integrity of the products inside, including medicines. Clear vinyl is used in tamper-resistant over-the-counter medications and shrinkwrap for consumer products. Rigid vinyl film is used in blister and clamshell packaging to protect medicines, personal care products and other household goods.
Vinyl plays a critical safety role in dispensing life-saving medicine through IV bags and medical tubing. The advent of the PVC blood-collection bag was a significant breakthrough because blood bags are flexible and unbreakable, enhancing the development of ambulatory medicine and serving as the foundation for modern blood banks.
PVC’s affordability, durability and water resistance make it ideal for rain coats, boots and shower curtains.
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